Reaching Across the Divide

It has been some time since I have made any contributions to this particular forum, in fact, the last word came from my cohort and compadre, Ed Petersen, who back in April again posed that vexing question: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Now after having endured the close of yet another presidential primary season, the beginning of the main event, and the first two days of the Republican’s gathering of funny hats in Tampa, the prospect of getting along seems as unattainable as ever. But in the interest of promoting our policy of  defusing the prevailing air of pessimism, we will continue to voice our own unique brand of hope and optimism.

The following piece was recently published in our new online publication Parting Glass Media:

Having spent a substantial portion of my adulthood on both sides of that barrier that separates the patrons from the potables, I know from experience just how territorial people can be about what they perceive to be an almost God-given right to a particular place at the bar. And any newcomer to the establishment that infringes upon that preordained seating arrangement, at the very least, might be subject to a less than welcoming glance from those that believe that their time at the tavern affords them special considerations.

I have always believed that if you observe human behavior on a small-scale, one will gain much insight into the overall nature of mankind. And watching the masses jockeying for position at the bar in the hope of getting those rewards that await them on the other side reminds me very much of our current attitude towards those that may have entered the saloon, or crossed our borders, without the proper credentials. And with another heated presidential election season in full swing, the hand wringing and wrangling over the issue of immigration will once again be at the forefront of the fear mongering laundry list of political issues. Our mercurial position on the matter has always been dictated by economic self-interest, and by our own personal prejudice for or against that particular group seeking safe haven on these shores.

During my time as a bartender at Manhattan’s Peter McManus Cafe during the late 80s, I experienced a very different response to some of those that were here in the country illegally. Although these new Irish immigrants were not facing anything equal to the hardships and devastation caused by the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century, an abysmal economy at home had driven them to seek employment throughout the five boroughs of New York. And while these expatriates were not about to take on anything as ambitious as digging a canal or building a transcontinental railroad, a number of rundown city neighborhoods did experience gentrification as a result of this ready, willing and able-bodied pool of affordable labor.

The same friendly pubs that cashed the checks of these undocumented workers would garner a quick reward for their blind eye courtesy in the form of an ever-increasing thirsty patronage that could spend many hours treating their homesickness with a generous dose of beer and whiskey. The local collection plates also benefited from those displaced souls who still adhered to the tradition of mass on Sunday, no matter how many pints were consumed during the previous evening’s session. So it was no small wonder at the time that there would be advocacy and a call for amnesty from both the politicians and those in the pulpit who shared a common heritage with those that were now living in the shadows of America’s promise.

As we once more face the challenge of constructing policy that is just and reasonable not only for those who are coming into the country, but also for those that have established their rightful citizenship, let us be mindful of the fact that much of this nation’s good fortune and success can be attributed to that longstanding tradition of inclusion. Furthermore, the vast majority of immigration, legal or otherwise, is driven by conditions that if faced by any human being would prompt those people to seek a better life elsewhere, regardless of the cost or personal risk. In the course of our own history, Americans have crossed or moved the borders to suit our individual and national needs—and in many instances without sufficient concern for the wellbeing of those who would be impacted by such actions.

Lastly, let us not forget that within most of us resides this deep-seated desire to bridge the divide that separates all humans from our point of origin in the universe. In an attempt to make that journey we have adopted principles, philosophies and religious beliefs that call upon us to transcend culture, race, and national identity in our dealings with each other. For if any of us are to draw from that wellspring of knowledge, or to partake of that holy nectar—we must first find a way to sit together on this side of the bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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